WALKING PARADISE FOR 2 DAYS
1. St. Savior in Chora/Kariye Müzesi
Some of the finest late-Byzantine mosaics anywhere are on display in this former monastic church located in relative obscurity in a quiet neighborhood near the Theodosian Land Walls. The radiance of the shimmering mosaics seems to instill pride and wonder, particularly in a new class of visitors hailing from Eastern Europe. This church is also a tile in the modern-day custodial mosaic that is the Greek Orthodox Church.
2. The Land Walls/Edirnekapi
In A.D. 412, Theodosius began construction on a system of defensive battlements destined to protect the city for the next 1,000 years. Among the 188 towers spaced along a total length of 6,670m (4 miles) is the Edirne Gate, or Edirnekapi. This was the main point of entry into the city of Constantinople for Byzantine emperors and Ottoman sultans alike, the latter having also made their first triumphal entrance into the conquered city in 1453. The juxtaposition of the battlements against a series of quiet and traditional neighborhoods makes a visit here especially rewarding.
Take a Break: Pierre Loti
This nostalgic outpost recalls the time spent in Istanbul by literary giant Julien Viaud, a French national and protagonist of one of Istanbul's heart-rending legends. The cafe, which uses Viaud's pseudonym, is a simple and sparse tearoom and terrace offering romanticized views of the storied Golden Horn.
The neighborhood of Eyüp commemorates the fall of Halid bin Zeyd Ebu Eyyûb (known as Eyüp Sultan), companion of Mohammad, in the Arab raids of the mid-7th century A.D. As Turkey's holiest Islamic site, the Eyüp Sultan mosque drew Ottoman sultans, pasas, and gentlemen here for official ceremonies, in pilgrimage, and as a prestigious final resting place. The cemetery along the lush path down from Pierre Loti serves as the latter, as does the grander türbe, or monumental mausoleums, closer to the mosque. The main plaza bustles with the comings and goings of the faithful, some of whom arrive from great distances, to honor their saint. On Sundays, chances are that you'll see some costumed little boys accompanied by their families visiting here prior to the boys' circumcision rite.
5. Misir Çarsisi (Egyptian Spice Bazaar)
Constructed as part of the Yeni Valide Mosque complex, the adjacent market is named for the exotic spices and essential grains brought into the city from Egypt. Inside is an irresistible and almost theatrical display of sights, sounds, and smells, but the best fun is in jostling your way through the streets behind the building. You will encounter vendors proffering morsels of soft cheese, spoonfuls of spicy ezme, and samples of succulent strawberries.
6. Galata Bridge
Next, a walk across the Galata Bridge will reward you with one of the best, all-encompassing views of the hills, minarets, and domes of the Old City behind you. You can either walk the upper deck, among fishermen and their catch, or stroll past the seafood restaurants and teahouses on the lower deck. Better still, switch between the two utilizing the stairways halfway, and don't forget to admire the churning juncture of the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus.
Take a Break: Grilled fish on the quay
This is the most authentic of daytime snacks, provided by a chain of fishing boats repurposed as Istanbul's version of fast food. The Tarihi Eminönü Balikçisi is the original; just walk right up to the water's edge and order a freshly grilled fish on a roll.
8. Mehter Band in the Military Museum
As an empire of conquest, the Ottomans bequeathed a wealth of military memorabilia that tells the story of the empire's rise and fall. The Ottoman Mehter Band played advance guard to the Ottoman army of foot soldiers on military campaigns. The band's cacophonous, dissonant, and tympanic sounds are both terrifying and exciting. Its re-creation -- in full Ottoman regalia -- is not to be missed.
9. Taksim Square
The pulse of the city, if not the country, Taksim Square is a vibrant and vital center analogous to Times Square or Piccadilly Circus. Except that here, centuries-old domes rise above Burger King billboards, and head-scarved girls on cellphones share the sidewalk with Istanbul's growing population of punk rockers.
10. Istiklal Caddesi
If Taksim is the heart of Istanbul, Istiklal Caddesi is the coronary artery. This, now an emerging open-air shopping mall flanked on both sides by ornately constructed former foreign embassies, recalls its earlier incarnation as the 19th-century Grand Rue de Pera. The evening crowd gets crushing, as laborers rush to arrive home for dinner and revelers seek out the trendiest nightspots. Continue down along Istiklal Caddesi or take the nostalgic trolley.
11. Çiçek Pasaji
Halfway down Istiklal is a rococo arcade dressed in beer halls, fish restaurants, and hanging gardens of flowers. It's one of Istanbul's most touristed attractions, and rightfully so.
The adjacent arcades and alleys that make up the Galatasaray Fish Market are picturesque, historic, and alluring. In the main avenue, displays of fresh fish vie for the attention of potential diners, until the street-side dining action begins on the narrow and cobbled offshoot of Nevisade Sokagi. Poke among the souvenirs, antiques, and luxuriant textiles for sale in the European, or Avrupa Pasaji, before calling it a day well spent and relaxing over a meal at one of the classic meyhanes (taverns) or restaurants recommended in Beyoglu.
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